By the end of 2018, Bashar al-Assad and his allies had eliminated the major rebel strongholds in southern Syria, and the U.S. was preparing to abandon the northeast. In February, Assad’s forces began a largely successful assault on the last pocket of resistance in the country’s northwest. Yet despite these developments, Jonathan Spyer writes, the regime is by no means in a position to declare victory:
[W]hile the civil war that began in 2011 may effectively be over, events in the country indicate that no clear winner has emerged from the conflict. Syria appears set to remain divided, impoverished, and dominated by competing external powers. The Assad regime [itself] is beset by infighting at top levels, even as significant unrest returns to regime-controlled areas. . . . Syria remains territorially divided, with the regime controlling just over 60 percent of the country.
But even in the areas under his control, Assad is not succeeding in returning stability and re-consolidating his rule. The problem is first of all economic. Syria is a smoking ruin. Neither Assad, nor his patrons in Moscow and Tehran, have the money to begin desperately needed reconstruction. The Europeans and the U.S., meanwhile, will not offer assistance so long as the regime refuses all prospects of political transition.
This stalemate is not endlessly sustainable. Lack of money makes rebuilding impossible. This in turn leads to renewed instability. The economic fortunes of the Assads have deteriorated significantly further in recent weeks. The Syrian pound is in freefall.
Bashar al-Assad is not about to fall. But severe economic deterioration, regime infighting, re-ignited unrest from below, and fresh sanctions about to bite are combining to place his regime under renewed, severe pressure. It is all a long way from the victory parades of just two years ago.